When the pandemic struck, Fort Langley teacher Hayley Legassie was already at home with her two kids, four-year-old Lochlan and seven-year-old Lexi.
She had been on leave from her job at Fort Langley Elementary for almost two years after she’d suffered a concussion that had impacted her ability to be in a classroom.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and it became clear schools would not be going back to normal any time soon, Legassie started to think about what kids were experiencing.
“All of the things they enjoy were being ripped away from them,” she said.
She started to think that there had to be a way to replace some of what was being lost.
“How can we continue to fill kids with wonder and joy while being stuck at home?” she said.
She decided to create a website that could give kids “virtual field trips,” live streaming events that kids could watch to get interesting and educational experiences while they were cooped up at home – and to give their parents a useful resource.
It became learnfortlangley.com, and over the course of the spring it grew faster and reached farther than Legassie had ever imagined.
Eventually kids could see hippos fed at the zoo, connect with astronomers in Vancouver, and learn about local history.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo was the first partner to jump on board.
“I told them they can use me as a pilot project,” Legassie said.
Soon she was connecting with multiple museums, park sites, and educational centres.
The Fort Langley National Historic Site, the Langley Centennial Museum, the Fraser Valley Regional Library, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, the Kwantlen First Nation, the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, and the Vancouver Aquarium, among others, all came on board.
Librarians hosted virtual storytimes, historians talked with kids about what life was like in pioneer days, and zookeepers introduced children to animals.
For those watching, the speed with which Legassie created the programs was impressive.
Most museums didn’t have online learning programs operated through Zoom or similar programs, said Shannon Macelli, who was working at the Langley Centennial Museum in the spring.
From the time Legassie first got in touch with the museum to two weeks later, Legassie had created a website, a Facebook group, and started online lessons, Macelli said.
With no funding, she had launched the program in about 10 days.
“It blew my mind,” said Macelli.
Legassie’s schedule was suddenly full – despite the fact that she was still also trying to keep educating her own two children.
“She would host every single session,” said Macelli.
Legassie set up up to 10 live, free education sessions every week, about 10 to 15 hours of online video sessions.
“The work that she did, it was a gift to the community,” Macelli said.
“It was definitely a full time job,” Legassie admits.
But it was fulfilling.
After almost two years away from the classroom, she found that the things about her concussion that made working in a classroom difficult didn’t affect her when she was working online and setting up the Zoom sessions.
“It was a lot of work, but I loved it,” Legassie said.
It also grew geographically.
Legassie had intended it to be a resource for kids and families in and around Fort Langley, or Langley and the Lower Mainland at the most.
But families from all over B.C. and even parts of the United States heard of it through the grapevine and joined in.
Last week, a family from Ontario and one from Virginia were taking part, she noted.
Learn Fort Langley wound down for the most part through the summer. As schools resumed operation, there was less need for live Zoom events during the day.
There are still sessions being offered, though fewer than in the spring, when it was a lifeline for local parents.
Now that she’s scaled back, Legassie is looking at turning the new skills she’s developed into a new career path.
She’s created Joyful Learning, a not-for-profit website that also hosts virtual field trips and parent support for parents who are homeschooling – including those who didn’t expect to be homeschooling this year.
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